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Fraulein O



Type of spiritual experience



The case study is very simply described and as such we cannot deduce much from the example.

What it appears to show is that, when a new Personality is spawned, the Memory from which it is spawned are copied at the same time. Thus Fraulein O did not lose language or her ability to speak her native language - German - or it would seem much of her behaviour.

But from the moment the extra Personality or Personalities [because this too is an option despite the text] was spawned, any new functions learnt were stored with the new personality. There is also the possibility that the spawning process disrupted access to functions already learnt and sections of her memory database. So let us assume she already knew how to speak Italian or English and French. The spawning process could have taken away from her functions she already possessed and attributed them to the new personality.

As I said the case history description is not particularly helpful, but as an example it is a good introduction to the concept of multiple memory and learnt function belonging to Personality.

A description of the experience

Studien uber Hysterie – [Leipzig 1895] Dr Breuer and Dr S Freud[from Human Personality and its Survival of Bodily Death – F W H Myers]

Fraulein O led an active and happy life; her strongest attachment was to her father…. The cause of her breakdown lay in a long, distressing and ultimately fatal illness of her father when she was twenty one years old. She nursed him with a passionate devotion which was no doubt unwise but which can hardly be called morbid.

Her nervous system gave way and a quantity of hysterical affections set in. There were headaches, strabismus, disturbances of sight and of speech, positive and negative hallucinations, the influence of idees fixes, contractions, anaesthesiae etc. The condition of extreme instability thus induced, varying from hour to hour, gave rise at times to a secondary personality which lay outside the primary memory.

…Fraulein O’s great linguistic gift made her perhaps the most interesting example on record of hysterical aphasia and paraphasia. Sometimes she was altogether speechless. Sometimes she talked German in ungrammatical fashion. Sometimes she spoke English, apparently believing it to be German, but understood German; sometimes she spoke English and could not understand German. Sometimes she spoke French or Italian; and in French or Italian states she had no memory of English states and vice versa. Sometimes, however, in an English state she could understand French or Italian books; but if she read them aloud she read them in English, apparently unaware that they were not in that language.

The source of the experience

Anna O.

Concepts and Symbols used in the text or image